lava tube

Indian Tunnel

The number of documented caves within the Monument currently exceeds 400 and more are discovered each year. There are 3 main types of caves found here (listed from most numerous to least): lava tubes, fissure caves, and differential weathering caves.

Lava Tube Caves

The vast majority of caves found within the Monument are lava tubes. They formed when the cooling exterior of an active lava flow insulated the molten river within allowing it to continue to flow. In this way lava sometimes flowed for many miles underground until the source was cut off or diverted leaving behind an empty space or “cave.” Indian tunnel (shown in photo) is an excellent example of a lava tube cave. This cave and 3 other lava tube caves are easily accessed from the Caves Trail.

The Virtual Lava Tube
This web site provides illustrations of the wide variety of geologic features found in lava tubes.

Discovering Caves: Lava Tubes (pdf)
A National Speleological Society publication

fissure cave

Aerial View of king's Bowl

Fissure Caves

Fissure caves are found within the the deep cracks that make up the Great Rift. Some of these caves are remarkably deep, including one particular fissure that may be passable to a depth of 650 feet (200 meters) from the surface. The King's Bowl area is an excellent place to view fissure caves but access is limited to cavers with the right equipment and knowledge to explore these caves safely.

Differential Weathering Cave

Differential Weathering Cave

Differential Weathering Caves

These caves were formed when volcanic material was hollowed out by wind, rain and frost. These caves are relatively rare and difficult to find.

screening chart

White Nose Syndrome
To prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed over a million bats since 2005, screening is required before entering any cave on National Park Service lands. Screening and cave permits may be obtained at the Monument entrance station, at the Visitor Center or on Ranger guided walks. Permits are valid for the five developed caves: Indian Tunnel, Dew Drop, Boy Scout, Beauty, and Buffalo Caves. All other caves are closed to recreational caving.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:
-Have you visited a cave or mine since 2005?
-Do you have any items with you that entered into the caves or mines you previously visited?
(e.g., clothing, shoes, flashlights, cameras, watches, phones, etc.)

If the answer to both questions is yes, please bring gear with you which has not been exposed to other
caves or mines. Cave permits will not be issued for persons using potentially contaminated gear.

Detailed decontamination procedures have been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cave Management Plan


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